One day, the Blackhawks are sitting atop the Central Division standings, at times boasting the most points in the NHL. The next, they wouldn’t even have home-ice advantage in the first round if the playoffs began at that moment.
It’s a difficult time to keep up with the constant shifts in the standings, but such is life in the competitive Central – which is currently on pace to make a bit of history while providing us fans with some entertaining hockey down the stretch.
This is the 13th season since the NHL went to six divisions and the current playoff format in 1998-99 (the 2004-05 season marked the lockout). In the 12 completed seasons, at least one division has sent four teams to the playoffs 10 times.
In a game Blackhawks fans likely won’t forget soon, Minnesota beat Dallas on the final day of the 2010-11 regular season to prevent the Pacific from becoming the first division to send all five teams to the postseason.
Essentially, the playoff format has three division winners and five “wild-card” teams. The only seasons one division didn’t claim three “wild-cards” were 2000-01 and 2005-06.
The 2008-09 season marked the one time two divisions accomplished the feat. The Atlantic and the Central, when Detroit (No. 1 seed), the ‘Hawks (4), St. Louis (6) and Columbus (8) qualified four of their five teams – the only time since current realignment the Central has done it.
Overall, a single division qualifying a quartet is quite common. The rarity lies in what the Central currently is on pace to accomplish – place all four teams within the top six seeds.
The amount of pain resulting from Saturday’s 5-2 loss in Nashville is to be determined.
Jonathan Toews played less than 10 minutes before leaving, and the ‘Hawks played careless defense and got sub-par goaltending from Corey Crawford, helping extend their road losing streak to four games.
There’s little question the “upper-body” injury that kept Toews from finishing is the same that sent him to the bench against Florida. The slash to the hand/wrist area is the likeliest of anything anyone can think it to be. How it got aggravated, though, is anyone’s guess.
I know this may be tough to hear without a diagnosis and it coming after a humiliating defeat to a division rival, but as long as Toews’ injury isn’t a clean break, it came at the best possible time. If it’s necessary, Toews can sit Tuesday and then relax for a week after skipping the All-Star game next Saturday, and we can see where we’re at then. If this happened in the middle of a three-games-in-four-nights stretch, then I may be a bit more concerned.
That doesn’t mean I’m not now, especially since the vagueness of the NHL injury front keeps us from knowing much. However, though briefly, I’m remaining optimistic.
♦ Allowing a 100-foot goal became Crawford’s biggest of his many blemishes this season – and maybe his career. We can talk about funny bounces all we want, but that floater has to be stopped. The momentum completely shifted after the ‘Hawks controlled most of the game to that point. He’d later go down like he took a shotgun to the chest on a move by Kostitsyn, leading to the hook in favor of Ray Emery, who was promptly greeted with a breakaway he stopped.
♦ Nick Leddy and Niklas Hjalmarsson - I’m begging them to prove their worth soon. Leddy’s offensive talent doesn’t help with what the Blackhawks need. They have plenty of scoring. What the ‘Hawks need is defensive reliability, which he’s not giving at the moment. The failed clear led to Hammer staring at Legwand, as Wilson slid right behind him for an easy goal. That’s not on Crow, that’s the defense. And Duncan Keith didn’t do Crow any favors by coming up way too high on the kill, leaving Smith two clear cracks at putting it into the net.
♦ Marian Hossa played an outstanding game at both ends, and potted the only Blackhawks’ goals while making the red-hot Pekka Rinne look pretty damn bad.
Just past the midway point of the season, Kris Versteeg has come on out of nowhere and is leading the team in scoring. Brian Campbell is third, boasting a team-high 31 assists. Tomas Kopecky has amassed 19 points, but his -12 tells a bigger story than his point total. And Jack Skille is still not showing the spark that General Manager Dale Tallon felt he would bring to the team, with only 6 points on the year.
Could be a paragraph out of January 2010, could it not? Well, maybe not the part about Steeger. But alas, no, dear reader: this is the current state of the Florida Panthers. Chicago South, as it were, as Tallon continues to stack his deck with former members of the Blackhawks’ 2009-10 Stanley Cup-winning roster — adding as-yet-unsigned free agent John Madden just three weeks ago.
Is it paying off?
So Bartl was supposed to be around with your Boxing – but he has gone MIA. Sombody should probably look into that.
But we have bigger fish to fry! We’re going to forego a traditional recap as the game was yesterday and you’ve probably already read recaps here and here. Just a couple of real quick thoughts on the game and some other things:
From December 17th through the 31st the Buffalo Sabres were 1-5-1. During the month of January so far they are 2-4-1.
So, they’re improving! Right?
The latest loss comes at the hands of Detroit (*spitting noise*), a 5-0 shutout that has the team, the media, and the fans shaking their heads. This is no longer just a slump, this is a tailspin. Something needs to be done.
With the up-and-down play of the Blackhawks in the new year, the talk about trades has ramped up considerably on the blogosphere and among the social media faithful. The Cheer The Anthem staff sat down recently to discuss who should (or could) stay, who should (or could) go, and who the Blackhawks might get in return — or are any changes needed at all? Check out what they had to say in the January edition of the Round Table…
That’s your top line, ladies and gentlemen.
The Blackhawks came away with five of six points in their three-games-in-four-nights stretch, dominating San Jose 4-3 – save for a few moments.
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Viktor Stalberg combined for two goals and three assists in the victory, coming up with big goals – and two more near-goals – to help improve the ‘Hawks to 3-0-2 in their last five games.
♦ It’s tough to ignore the play of Stalberg, despite the fact half of his 14 goals have come against Columbus. Nonetheless, when you’re hot, you’re hot. His goal was nothing short of perfection on all accounts, charging hard toward the net after recognizing the open space. With his speed and first step, these goals can continue happening, especially playing on a line with two of the league’s best passers.
♦ Kaner is in a big scoring slump, and if it wasn’t obvious enough, Antti Niemi absolutely robbed the living hell out of him in the first period. Toews and Kane executed a perfect 2-on-1, and Niemi seemed down and out. As we’re all privy to when Niemi was wearing the Indian head, he suck out the glove across the open net and snagged a sure-goal out of the air. Kane couldn’t believe it, and Toews had to go console him. It’s a shame, but it seems as if he’s getting closer to ending that slump.
♦ Toews’ goal was the work of the entire line. Stalberg hustled to bother Niemi, and the puck shot out to Kane on the left board. Without a hesitation, he fired it to the front with Toews waiting, and all three got on the score sheet. I’ll mention this again later, but Toews described the goal during the intermission interview and referred to Niemi as “their goaltender.” Fuck the friendship when it comes to getting a win, eh?
♦ Another goal from Andrew Shaw, who may get a statue outside the UC soon if it were up to a good chunk of the fan base. I like the guy. I think he brings plenty of things to the table and it’s hard to ignore his scoring numbers. He went 6 for 6 at the dot tonight and has an awesome Napoleon complex.
However, quoting the Gin Blossoms, Shaw may want to start singing: “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.” Thinking this guy is the second coming of Denis Savard will only make for a long fall from the top of the What-You-Talkin’-About Willis Tower. If this keeps up, awesome. Build his statue. But when he starts to screw up – and he will – remember to be objective toward your newly found hero.
♦ I’d like to thank the ‘Hawks for taking my mind off what I witness first-hand at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday. That first period was complete shit show. Following that with five solid periods helps.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak. After a humiliating loss to the Red Wings on Saturday, the Blackhawks get to suit up against yet another Western Conference rival on a hot streak in the form of San Jose. The new year has been good to the Sharks, with 6 wins and a shootout loss to their credit thus far.
In those six victories, they never allowed their opponents to tally more than twice. Defense is a big key to the Sharks’ game — they are 5th-best in the league in goals against. There is just one regular member of the Sharks roster who has a negative plus/minus. One. It’s Jason Demers, in case you’re interested.
But that’s not to say the Sharks have lost their once-potent offense. The usual one-two punch of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau is still as effective as ever, with the three-four punch combination of Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture close behind. Those four account for over 130 points of the Sharks’ offense. This is not a team that is prone to sitting back and protecting a lead.
Wow. What a roller-coaster ride that was. One can’t help but wonder what the outcome would have been if the Blackhawks had decided to play in the 1st period.
About that abortion of a 1st period – it may have been one of the worst of the season (excluding the Edmonton game, of course). Detroit was able to glide right into the Hawks zone and set up while the Hawks couldn’t even execute a dump and chase. Detroit led in shots on goal by an astounding 21-4 (9-0 through the first 7 minutes) margin and out-hit the Blackhawks 12-9. As you probably guessed by looking at the shots on goal, the Wings dominated every aspect of the game in the opening frame. The only reason this game wasn’t 5-0 at the end of the period was Corey Crawford, who was outstanding.
The biggest challenge about this game isn’t the Red Wings’ roster, or its goaltender, or Coach Cranky Pants, or the brain-dead knuckle-draggers throwing seafood on the ice.
Detroit (*spitting noise*) is nearly unbeatable on home ice.
But notice I said “nearly.”